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Mentoring outside the square


AAR is using non-lawyer mentors in a program specifically aimed at female senior associates.

The legal profession has a history of educating and supporting its members, with resources today spent on professional development, including programs to stop them opting out of the law.

Aside from the traditional partner-articled clerk relationships, there are now buddy schemes, networking groups, coaching for young lawyers and mentoring programs for women in the legal arena. Retention of talent is the main aim.

Most initiatives are run inhouse, but one firm – Allens Arthur Robinson (AAR) – believes providing its female senior associates with external non-lawyer mentors will help keep them at the firm.

Ten female senior associates have been made partner since the program began in 2004. All were mentored in the external program except one lateral appointment in the Brisbane office.

AAR executive partner Maryjane Crabtree, who oversees the broader Women@aar program, said the women all found the program to be a great help and support.

While a range of mentoring initiatives are available to male and female employees, the external mentoring of female senior associates is aimed squarely at retention and helping more women become partners.

Whether the program was working depended on how it was evaluated, Ms Crabtree said.

“We have had women leave so if it is solely about retention then it has failed, but we really want to improve the quality of life and the quality of the choices available to our senior women,” she told the LIJ.

“They have indicated they want some structure around their thinking about their career and their priorities and they want a sounding board, someone outside the firm who is experienced with the issues they are grappling with including balancing their work and family life.

“We recognise our women have an enormous range of choices available to them right through their career; they are not as constrained as the men in working full-time.”

Ms Crabtree said external mentors could offer a different perspective.

“You need different sorts of mentors at different times and you often need more than one mentor.

“We regard this as being something which really focuses our women on the difficult issues – those things you need to think about but often put aside because you are busy doing something else. It is really about finding the time and space for those big decisions,” she said.

“Internal mentors are more focused on life inside the firm and the things that we do every day.”

Knowing how to take control of a meeting, gaining confidence in public speaking and cold calling, and even how to effectively network have been raised by the firm’s women lawyers as areas they want help with.

“Women do these things quite differently and they weren’t finding the support and the models to follow in what we had on offer (before the Women@aar program),” Ms Crabtree said.

Under the AAR program, female senior associates must put forward a case to show how they would benefit from having an external mentor.

The firm uses mentoring expert Wendy McCarthy, who interviews the mentees and then matches them with a suitable mentor for a 12-month period.

The firm is charged a placement fee and also pays the mentors for their time. Monthly meetings between mentor and mentee are encouraged.

“We periodically get the mentors together for a lunch. They like to know what is going on in the firm and the profession,” Ms Crabtree said.

“The mentored women also get together and they often swap ideas and share ways of approaching issues.”

The same service was not available to male senior associates as they generally found it easier to access natural mentors in the traditional firm structure, Ms Crabtree said.

“We identified the need to help get more women to partnership as a priority. This program is fairly resource intensive and while it would be lovely to mentor everyone in the organisation in this way, we are targeting a particular need.”

She said the program was evaluated subjectively, by talking with the senior associates involved.


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